Wrestlers need better hygiene

After an outbreak of herpes last year, the NCAA wants to make improvements on hygiene standards.

by Andrew Cummins

A herpes outbreak last year shut down the Minnesota high school wrestling circuit for a week, and the NCAA is now considering measures to prevent such an outbreak at the collegiate level.

The proposed recommendations, which aren’t binding, include that wrestling mats be cleaned and disinfected before competition, and a disinfecting mechanism be provided for athletes to clean their shoes – measures some University medical personnel see as small steps that don’t address the larger issue.

Gophers wrestling athletic trainer Rich Schlotfeldt said the measures are a welcome step, but said he doesn’t think they’ll make a huge impact in deterring skin infection.

Although clean mats aid in preventing skin abrasions and might help prevent outbreaks, the bigger issue is hygiene, he said. Competitors’ showering and washing patterns are more important.

Many larger schools already had some form of the proposed regulations in place, he said.

“I think most of this is kind of common sense, but not everybody was doing it across the board,” he said.

The NCAA Wrestling Rules Committee recommended the changes at its meeting earlier this month, and the Playing Rules and Oversight Panel will rule on them June 5, NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn said in an e-mail.

“The rationale for this proposed change is for student-athlete health and safety considerations, including providing a protection against skin infections,” she said.

If approved, Osburn said the recommendations should be easy for institutions to implement, as a disinfecting mechanism could be as simple as a set of sanitary towels.

The possibility for such improved maintenance and mat cleanliness could help tackle some health issues that arise when mats are not properly treated, Schlotfeldt said, such as skin infections.

Through his experience, the Gophers athletic trainer said problems can arise when there is debris on the mats.

“It’s nice to make sure they keep those clean,” he said. “A dirty mat or a mat that’s not in good condition can cause you to have some of those outbreaks.”

The Gophers wresting team deals with five or six cases of skin infection each season, Schlotfeldt said. And while trainers and staff clean mats routinely and the Gophers have tear-away disinfecting mats in their practice room, that’s not necessarily true in matches.

Dr. B.J. Anderson of Boynton Health Service agreed with Schlotfeldt’s assessment of the proposed rule changes as a nice step, but not completely addressing the issue.

“(Cleaning the mats and shoes) makes sense, but the vast majority of skin infections occur from skin-to-skin contact, not from the mat,” he said.

Also under the proposed rule changes, an athlete with a skin condition would go through a formal process, filling out a form and undergoing a physician’s examination, which Anderson sees as possibly the best recommendation.

The NCAA is currently looking into more hygiene improvements, Anderson said, adding that that’s the right approach.

“Hygiene is probably the biggest thing that we need to promote, because we don’t have many other options right now,” he said.

Looking toward the future, Anderson said coaches, staff and competitors need to understand the importance of hygiene, which should include wrestlers showering between every match – an uncommon practice in today’s scene.

“I’m sure some coaches may recommend it, but the vast majority aren’t doing that,” he said.